Northern Appalachian:
Old Souls and Wolf Tracks

by Judy Platz

Table of Contents

Markers, for Mort
Naming Ourselves
Kara: Swan Maiden Fairie
“Maine Room”
Deer Yard
Sturdy Sounds
Archimedes Meets Einstein
Goma, Zaire
Words are Acts
The Pieces
Seeing the Moon
Diagnostic Center  



                    for Mort Krahling (1944-1998)

                         brother Bill and poets everywhere

The mystery is

that we are still here at all—

still beating our owl wings

under curved moon;

star-nose moles digging, digging

in the dark, toward light

bones, teeth, bits of hair to identify the others—

words left behind on pages for channel markers

in the deep ocean of soul;

our temporal homes that see us invisible

with pen and hand and paper to create

artifacts, for those yet who will search.

The journey unrelenting, absolute;

but look! Seed tendrils walk beside us

in damp darkness

toward the light, always toward the light.

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Naming Ourselves

                                                         for Karen

Watching the lake go flat black at sunset

I notice the circle of the year

has transformed the maple’s easy swing of summer green

for brittle, bright, burnt umber autumnal tresses.

Is it true, that tree whispers to leaf

on journey to the soil;

regarding loss as nature’s song – graceful circuitry –

no more, no less – renaming herself everyday.

Every morn new leaves have fallen in the night

every night maple steadies new, for coming day –

no more, no less.

I imagine her humming as she speaks to leaf

while her rings draw water up for winter’s slumbered silence.

Our moons intersect – the tree and me.

And like stout maple’s accumulated circle dance

our words which sing and prance around us on the wind,

name us new each day.

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Kara: Swan Maiden Fairie

You must want to

swim the cold, deep, reedy waters,

some early morning in a mountain lake,

just before the sun breathes into pine forest.

And you might swim far out into the water,

so far, you are no longer certain

you can make the shore again --

then they might find you.

First, you might see dark shadows as you stroke;

arm down, head down, holding your breath,

eyes open in the grey-green murky water.

Then you might stop swimming for an instant,

lift your head, and see two loons,

watching you. A third might emerge to pause,

and turn its red eye down toward your astonished eye.

Then you become their object;

you are in their territory;

they have found you.

As they circle, you see slivers of sunlight lift each feather

so that suddenly you understand the sixty million years

their bodies have floated around bones

and you hum to their water-smoothed snail song,

their fern, and their trilobite memory.

And you must want to swim,

so then it may happen,

so you will learn how the loons

evolved to glide, to fish, and to nest

on mud-reedy shores,

so frailty will ring in your ears

while around you the birds plunge,

call, dive, and watch you carefully.

Other loons will fly overhead;

their pierced cry drips of fern spore,

aches with dinosaur breath.

Only then, will you hear the loon call hover

over smooth morning flat black lake;

only then, will the dull human thought drain from you;

only then, your feet become webbed.

And, if all this should happen one morning on a flat black lake,

then you will no longer worry about reaching shore.

Around you, will be the water that is glistening;

beside you, will be speckled loon feathers;

inside you will be bones that grow flight.

You will look down to see your reflection--

a strong, grooved bill and sturdy neck;

you will feel laced netting grow between your toes

as you push on toward the horizon,

to the vanishing point.

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"Maine Room"
                  Andrew Wyeth- watercolor

In the painting two carved tern figures lift,

poised, ready for flight, wings extended in the white patch of light;

silence around them in their wooden coats they move out,

on the mantel above a fire long extinguished.

In that bare room chill air covers, hovers, seeps.

I imagine I touch the red metal kindling box with bare hand.

The cold always a surprise, shock to the system

even though to build a fire, a person must

first put hands to the cold.

I long to be in the cold season of that sparse room,

as if what I do not know of color mix,

of deflection, shadow, lean of light through window,

through cloud gatherings, through distillation,

may in time, be dug into

like post holes sought for in the rubble:

kindling which finally always blazes to warmth.

One corner of light around the birds on the mantle,

as if one small illumination were enough to sustain;

or one minute flicker around the thought of flight

contained human and bird. And for my part

I wish to lie on the blue cot in the Maine Room

directly in front of a blazing fire--

to dream, to watch flames lick at the aging brick

feel the wood's energy unravel centuries in its skin

and in my bones and hold that dreamtime.

The terns, the terns, mute in their oaken byrnies,

in their island sliver of light; their small silver corner.

Oil lamp light waiting, fire waiting; the terns dance perpetually,

wings pulsing in shadowed abundant joy.

Flight of the wooden birds,

carved in the very material which may consume them

and still they dance in ecstasy.

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Deer Yard


It is my ritual now.

I’ve worn a track in the snow like theirs-

mine more awkward,

a heavy booted padding down of snow

packed firm 12 inches in: solid, hard, iced;

theirs a 6 inch wide hoof imprinted narrow trail,

a thin meandering through hardwood and conifer

to my apple tree, where at dusk I shovel out

four separate piles of pellets

assured by the friendly Paris Farmer’s Union store

to be nutritionally healthy.

At dusk I watch the silhouetted shapes appear-

heads alert, pinching their way down the hill

one behind the other

they fan out under the tree

each neck extended at a place hollowed out

in the 3 foot hard pack.

It is only mid-January.

My courses go well, but there is never enough work.

Thank goodness for summer’s canned garden.

Together the deer and I face down approaching north wind

together summer fat dwindles to an exercise of faith

and in the half-light together, we wait.

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Sturdy Sounds

A present from the radio--

without electric light, I am listening to flute, fiddle,

and Gaelic language on a chill winter night

with woodstove roar and full moon on drifted snow.

Water pot on stovetop for the night,

I wait to hear the deer’s crunch of snow under delicate hoofs

and to watch them as they carefully pick their way

down packed snow trail through the woods

to my apple tree in the valley.

It occurs to me that sounds too, of the Gaelic language

flung from voices and fiddle and flute

were invented to keep the heart alive in winter.

Music and words swirl about the room in the dark,

bump into chairs, spill over rugs,

and fall into snoozing cats;

sounds that warm the mind with their soft sturdy diphthongs

inside which I hear comfort for daily battle on the ocean,

comfort for fear and unease with nets cast into black icy whael-rod,

“A laoich goirmlinn” (thou wounded dark water);

sounds to keep alive what’s behind the eyes

the whisker of hope depended upon,

currachs that will find their own rocky beach,

and the daily climb up sheer wall barrier

at the edge of ocean to the land. It's sturdy sound

that guides through cold barren darkness.

They arrive!

I hear the deer crunching apples and hay

I had put out at the foot of the tree,

their teeth splitting unevenly the sweet fruit,

the three of them come as they have every year

when the snow piles up too deep for foraging,

walking single file through cold barren darkness

to the tree. Sturdy sounds.

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Archimedes Meets Einstein

It was the density that puzzled them--

Gold or The Milky Way

E=MC2 mass (times) speed of light squared.

Is it the “dis placement” then

that measures difference and

was R. Frost on the same track?

How unrealistic we are

to think our small bones

move thru our space/time

years upon years

without displacing energy--

our journey electric

“a threefold chord is not quickly broken” *

we move in darkness

our eyes see nothing--

in the distance, bells chime.

* Ecclesiastes 4:12

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Goma, Zaire

The young man who is the relief worker

is not used to his work--

there is sweat dripping down his forehead into his kind eyes

over his ebony cheekbones.

Intensity strung in every muscle of his face

as he unloads the precious rice, corn and wheat

sorting the smaller bundles

handing them as fast as he can into the crowd.

Angry thirteen and fifteen year old boys

fight each other to touch a packet of food

in his outstretched hands.

Later, he no longer sees who is taking the food from his fingertips

and as the crowd suddenly rushes into the back of the semi--

women and smaller boys struggle together for these small packages of life.

This young man who handles the food

is not fat but he is not thin.

He will get used to gaunt faces,

he will stop trying to hand out the food,

will park the semi to one side of the road

and as long as there is food inside

he will allow anyone to enter the back,

anytime and without reason.

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To be forced to be apart

to be driven from all you love,

ripped, torn, shorn of family, roof, food,

to live each day as a last fading dream of village, home, safety.

Your 10 year-old mind finds burning house, field, countryside

finds the bullets for your mother, father, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, cousin;

steel enters by the ear, exits by chin

enters forehead, exits back of neck

family members crush you beneath them as they fall.

Who knew bodies had so much blood in them.

You lay silent, still, your small heart beating

beneath fat and bone waiting for soldiers' voices to go away.

Two days later, after climbing nearby mountains, relief workers rescue you.

You shiver uncontrollably; place one awkward foot in front of the other

down the rubble strewn morass, to a sea of refugees;

white tents, sides fluttering in spring wind, winged witnesses;

follow you, alone to Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Germany, Norway, USA.

The television tells us many of you cannot speak.

I think, "How many children could I fit into my house?"

I feed goldfinches, plant tomato, bean and basil seed

plan which trees will be cut for next winter's fuel;

outside, here, the garden will be growing in a month.

Of what use is a poem except to remind us--where are you

on your 11th birthday, and will you have learned to sing

with finches and plant seeds in a garden somewhere by then?

for Kosovo, April 1999

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                         Step lightly      all around us
                               words are cracking
                               off      we drift
                               separate and syllabic
                               if we survive at all.

                                         Audre Lorde

It isn't that hard to imagine

but still, you would have to try

to imagine...


as a very young child believing

you're not as smart as white folks

because your skin has pigment.

Imagine hating yourself;

I mean, really hating yourself

because you are told you are not as smart

because your skin has color

you hate           yourself.

And you do not learn letters very well

at school, because you believe you’re not as able

and in your skin the beautiful melanin.

Your mom notices

that really there ain't many pencils in your classroom

--even though Ms. Thurmond bring in her

own pencils an’ paper an’ everyday she try

real hard at school to keep th' kids learnin'.

An’ home?.. Mom tries, but she have ta work

so you by youself most times an’ no one t' show you

how to make the letters even if there was paper where you are,

or a pencil, a book, a magazine, but there ain't.

But there is TV, and rap

and pimps all ova' th' streets, pimpin'

drugs and whores, an’ anything that will work.

But you not dumb, you know

who is who; who to stay clear of,

who to stay away from, who to trust--

so you stay in th' kitchen of th' apartment

most times; sit next ta th' stove

on a chair with a blanket in winter 'cause

it off the floor where th' roaches an' rats be

an’ it warm there, an’ you wonder

'cause you told

you not as smart as white folk.

But you figure you still alive

so maybe you not so dumb after all--

one of them, sometime, should come here

an' try ta keep alive, you think.

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Words are Acts

The words are gathered

from all over the world.

They are remembered, saved,

written down, memorized,

worshipped, prayed over,

playing on the mother tongue

like a lover's kiss

awash in timeless transcendent joy,

in dream place/ space

and from this love,

the trance induced sound.

Here, mandala of Ankor Wat

there, kabbalistic healing

there, chants from Macchu Picchu

and sixteen ciphers of Eshu

with dream-dance of high plains Sioux

mother Druid stones and bone

her runes forming the sacred letters

and mystic journey of words.

Then, the words

breathed together their lace pattern

like frost on window, or ley lines

on spine crust of the earth.

From sea, from grass, from stone

to human heart

to word

to human heart.

Mother tongue found

and kneaded and given breath.

These words tell us to ourselves.

They are ours.

We send them away;

we keep them close.

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Seeing the Moon

Sometimes there is this direct sense of ourselves

that descends—like fog vapor

swirling through our skin and into our very bones

so we believe anything is possible:

real love between people,

world peace.

Mostly this understanding occurs at 2 am

when the rest of our family slumbers

and only the homeless are awake out on the cold street

as I look out from the apartment window.

By the dim light of a street lamp I write

because I do not want to attract attention to myself

writing, as I am, in the middle of the night.

I cannot see the moon in the city

but I am imbued with my pure sense of being anyway,

and a reckless joy

that this poem should live.

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Diagnostic Center

In another life

I will be the person who operates the machines

that detect the slowing age and gathering lumps

a body forms in the accumulation of years.

There is surety in this job --

a magnificent sense of purpose, dialing pictures like sonar,

plumbing of viscera's inner surfaces, diving around bone reefs

the barracuda and shark lurking somewhere

those striations possibly hugging bone, hiding in bladder,

stomach, kidney, spleen ...

until the screen blips at unmistakable damage

and spits out papers the doctors understand.

Faith is in machine that does no wrong.

Dials are accurate. What the machine decides is absolute,

true without argument.

Pictures of a father's anger spent into his bones

bent from twisting the same bolts on the same frames

of the same metal for decades,

or the mother knitting her grief that hollows kidneys

from the death of a son returned in pieces from a war.

But today sitting on cold, stainless steel table,

in blue, backless cotton tent folded at the shoulders

waiting for yet another dial and picture to determine the future,

I picture a someday when I will walk down white hallways

confident to be among those

on the inside.

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The Pieces

She traces wolf track and deer and bear in the snow

as if the animal understanding of necessity for testing

beneath iced landscape signaled in the small of the mind

a whisper to continue the labor into fierce rooted earth

and will certainly find a place of food,

warm below the frost line.

How often has she tried to explain

that her grandfather attended the single veined purpose of a leaf,

listened to the moon in its several masks,

nighttimes working in the kitchen on cracked age lined oilcloth,

peeled edges to the world fashioning delicate wooden bowls

from snow storms, narrow roads, ice. Grandfather fitted pieces

sanding, re-sanding, moving into place each singular shading of brown,

each precise sliver which would gentle into the bowl,

the shape which was not there yet, but lived inside his mind.

"The pieces know where to go," grandpa would say,

"You have to get out of their way, to listen to them."

Do you remember the story of the young man

captured by the Snow Queen; the boy caught

inside a glittering ice castle empty room?

He could not be released until he restored

the word "love" from shattered pieces of ice

which lay scattered over an endless floor.

And snagged in the boy's one eye was a splinter of glass

ingrown like a hook festering and scarred over.

The hook held taut to a line pulled by some fisher

of his deepest fears, imbedded in the very heart

which wanted to be free.

And if the wounded child of so long ago could weep,

tears might wash the splinter from his eye, releasing the man.

And if the man knows this and he chooses not to weep,

she must go away somewhere where it is spring

where roads pinch off for a season,

where she can chase the slow progress of the moon,

see to thickening leaves, clear out underbrush,

and turn twig, thorn, and stone over and over

in mud soaked hands.

Copyright © 2002 by Judy Platz   Email:

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